Posts Tagged ‘Superman’

MickeyThe answer: Copyright problems.

I would like to preface this post to make it explicitly clear that I am NOT a lawyer. However, I do have an extreme interest in copyright law. Why? Well I come from a law enforcement family. I was actually considering going into law for a long time until my mom convinced me I would be happier in the film world. The great thing about producing is that you need to know a lot of legal things, at least a basic understanding of copyright, trademark and contract law.

While at Columbia College Chicago, I really studied copyright law because it just interested me that much. Since graduating out, I have (and Scourge can attest to this) read legal briefs for fun, especially if its about copyright law. This is why the post today is about copyright. Deadline broke the news today that the Jack Kirby estate is taking their issues on copyright law all the way to the Supreme Court. The Kirby estate is going up against the biggest baddest lawyers– Disney. These were the same lawyers that actually got a new clause written into the copyright law back in 1998. That clause changed rules on public domain so much that its unofficially called the “mickey mouse” clause.

Click on the links for the nitty gritty details on the Captain America/Kirby Case and the Superman/Schuster Case. I don’t want to get into the specifics of these cases, but I will say, unlike some


Jack “The King” Kirby

companies, at least Marvel has tried to reach a middle ground with the Kirby family. That and I am surprised that both cases are being repped by the same lawyer- Marc Toberoff. Man, I am glad I am not him.

I cannot stress this enough. In this day and age, where if you make ANYTHING (a film, comic book, photography) you should copyright it. Why? Well theres alot of great reasons but heres the big ones:

  • If something happens to you, you can transfer the rights to someone else (i.e. your kids).
  • If someone,god forbid, tries to steal your work, registering it with the copyright office solidifies when the work was created. Plus, with registering, you can sue for punitive damages (which you cannot if you do not register).
  • If you want to sell the rights to your work (especially if you want to option for say, a film or tv show) any producer worth their salt will not touch your property or even think about optioning unless you have the copyright notice on you.

I cannot tell you how much it gets under my skin when people do stupid things. Over the years, I came across postings on Craigslist of fans trying to make movies of {insert comic book here} and flat out admit in the posting they don’t have the rights. Guess who sent emails to the publishers to let them know? Yes, me.


Superman By Alex Ross

I know you may think that is very mean/dirty/underhanded. It’s not. People who do this cause problems for everyone else. First and foremost, its not fair to the original creator that someone is taking their property and doing something with it without the original creators permission/input. Secondly, lets say that this fan film got made. Then lets say, Lionsgate did the proper paperwork etc and wants to make the same movie? Now there is confusion in the market.

It’s like shopping for a high end purse- unless you know what you are looking for- you can’t tell the knockoff from the legit. When I was in school, Ellie Sully (read her web comic here or her blog here) worked on every single production that I did either as a production designer/actor or both. There was one shoot in which I couldn’t be on set for a chunk of the day. The director called me pissed as hell because Ellie Sully was holding up the production.

Why? She went through the entire department with a fine tooth comb looking for anything that was showing logos. I mean, EVERYTHING. She flipped dvd’s on the shelf around so you couldn’t see the labels, taped over logos on the stove and fridge, pulled down posters etc. Ellie told the director that if I walked on to the set and saw all the trademarks I would have a melt down.

Well she was right. I told the director to deal with it. Then I called Ellie Sully and told her to hurry up. I saw rough edits later on in class along with other people. Guess who was the only director that wasn’t going to have to go back and “clean up” ? Yea. You guessed right. The director, right then and there, dubbed me the “copyright nazi”.

There is also this huge misconception that if you give credit, then you don’t have to get the rights. For example, you made a movie for a class project and added, say Bon Jovi music to the soundtrack then uploaded said movie for class onto youtube. Even if you give credit to Bon Jovi, they can still sue you.  Why? You didn’t get permission before hand.  I know someone will be like “But I made it for class! It falls under educational use!” Actually no it doesn’t. Education use is only for teachers folks! Not students!

If you ever have a question about using someone else’s work or if you should copyright something go to the US Copyright Office website. They have a great little FAQ section and you can also


Captain America by Alex Ross

register your work online here!

Also do a bit of research- if you need some legal advice there are numerous charities that could help depending on what you are doing. Here in Chicago we have a great organization called Lawyers for the Creative Arts. If you need help and you are working on a comic book or realize that someone stole your art etc talk to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.  Do a google search for more charties that are local to you. In a lot of cases, they will not charge you or they will charge you VERY little.  I have worked with Lawyers for the Creative Arts personally, and they are awesome. I am also a member of CBLDF. If you ever have an extra few dollars- help them out!




Look at it this way, the good old USA is a child compared to most other countries. The English have Shakespeare and countless other brilliant writers. Europe has the likes of Norse Mythology, the Grimm Fairy Tales. Greece and Italy have their pantheon of gods and goddesses in their mythologies.
What does the USA have? Yes, you can argue, we have stories like Davy Crockett, Johnny Appleseed and the like. However, that only reflects part of our history- the frontier days. What about after that? Can you think of anything? Not really.

So take a look at the comic books.  Superman is the protector of the world… but landed in the middle of a Kansas farm field. Captain America, skinny kid from Captain America, Vol. 1 Ish 1Brooklyn who grows up to fight the Third Reich.  Batman or Iron Man- the billionaires with the brain power to come up with gadgets not only for themselves but to share with the rest of the world (ahem, does that remind you of anyone recently? *cough* Gates *cough* Jobs)

I have sat in classes with professors who can correlate how comic book creators are a bit futurists. Captain America punching out Hitler on the cover of Captain America #1 nearly a year before we enter World War 2.

And not to make anyone upset- I am going to talk about 9/11 here for a moment.  If you are not a comic book fan, I need to explain the following picture below.  The Big 2 (Marvel and DC) plan story lines out months, if not years in advance. This gives plenty of lead time for the art team to work on the book. Books are usually (USUALLY) locked into printing at least a month before shipping. New Comic books come out on Wednesdays, so most local comic book stores have their shipments sitting somewhere in their store on Tuesdays.

Now in the original version of this post- a friend pointed out that in this day and age of technology he couldn’t believe that comics couldn’t be printed to coincide with major events.  I see his point, especially in this new age of digital comics. However, this first example- with Captain America- was back in the 1940’s.  There was really no way that Lee and Kirby could have truly known that we were going to enter into World War 2 nearly a year later after this issue was printed.

Even back in 2001, digital comics were still a thought but not fully implemented. Comic books get released weekly on Wednesdays. 9/11 happened on a Tuesday. So, with this particular copy of Adventures of Superman #596, the issues were either already in sitting in the back rooms of stores and/or on trucks out for delivery to comic book shops when the Trade Towers were hit. Did the writer/artist team know? If they did, I bet good ol’ Uncle Sam would like to speak with them.  Readers of this book were surprised to see the next few days when they got their copies the the image below- which in the story, is LexCorp towers in Metropolis.  Note the bottom panel of Page 1 of the book.

Adventures of Superman #596 (9/12/2001) Page 1

Adventures of Superman #596 (9/12/2001) Page 1

Adventures of Superman #596 Page 2 (9/12/2001)

Adventures of Superman #596 Page 2 (9/12/2001)

Comics not only weirdly predict things, but they also reflect the attitude of the people of this country. Here’s another 9/11 example from the infamous “Black Cover” Amazing Spider-man #36 written by J. Michael Straczynski and drawn by John Romita Jr. (with Scott Hanna on inks) was a tribute to New York City in the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001. Since the Marvel universe takes place in the real world (i.e. New York, not Metropolis) EIC Joe Quesada at the time, felt that the terrorist attacks should be addressed by the characters that live in the city. Who else better than every man, Spider-man?

Amazing Spider-man #36

Amazing Spider-man #36

Comics not only  predict/reflect major moments in history such as 9/11 or World War Two. Sometimes, they reflect societies attitudes about the world.

A few years back Marvel did a story line throughout all their books called “Civil War“. In the story, there is an incident where a school full of kids gets blown up- and its pretty much the straw that broke the camel’s back with society. This causes the President to create a “Superhuman Registration Act” in which anyone with “powers” would have to register for the government.  The Marvel Universe is divided down the middle. One side (Captain America’s ideals) says no because then the government tells them who the bad guys are, they want to keep their identities secret and not let the supervillains have a way to get to a database and find out who they are. The other side (Iron Man)  thinks that it’s a good idea, that it would bring a quality control- for the lack of a better word- and also accountability to the superhero set.

It’s a brilliant mini-series written by Mark Millar (you know him from the Wanted and Kick-Ass movies) and drawn by Steve McNiven. However the issue that pulled my heart strings the most, was actually an issue of the first volume of “New Avengers” written by Brian Michael Bendis.

New Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis

New Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis

New Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis

Luke later on in this issue, convinces Jessica Jones to take their daughter out of the country. Luke Cage  saying goodbye is the most heartbreaking thing on the face of the planet.

Now this series came out in 2006-2007. We as a country were already halfway through a decade plus long war (Iraq, Afghanistan) we were tired of it. Tired of the politicians. This was also the beginning of the  2008 political campaign.  If you take a look at people’s sentiments at this time, especially around the time this series came out.. you can feel the build up of resentment, anger and frustration pour not only out of us, but out of this book.

A hundred years or so from now, people will be looking at this books and making correlations to what was going on at the time. Just like a lot of us did with Shakespeare or books like “A Tale of Two Cities” or “Homer” while we were in school. Actually, I have sat through classes that dissect comics like this already.

So go and pick up a comic book. There are plenty out there that are non-superhero, superhero, horror or just plain goofy. Not only will it give you the mental/emotional distraction that you need, but you will be contributing to our cultural zeitgeist for your grandkids, great-grand children to stare and dissect.  Support these writers and artists who are telling stories about our society in a unique and interesting way that, until the birth of comic strips here in the good ol’ USA, was never even thought of. Things like this will survive for decades to come to explain how our society is NOW.

That’s why Comic Books Rock- they are an ongoing, evolving, time capsule.